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Pregame Six Pack: Primetime at Purdue

Sep 30, 2011, 4:14 AM EDT

Getty Images - Jonathan Daniel Getty Images

Four down, eight to go.

After digging themselves into an improbable 0-2 hole, the Irish are ready to push their way above .500, a long slog back after two really disheartening losses. They’ll have their chance to do it in primetime Saturday night, with the Irish and Boilermakers kicking off at Rose-Ade Stadium at 8:00 p.m. ET. (You can join me, as always, for a very spirited live-blog.)

With losses on consecutive Saturdays to open the season, the Irish faced traditional opponents Michigan State and Pittsburgh, two teams that Notre Dame has struggled with in recent years. That the Irish dispatched the Spartans handily and escaped Pittsburgh with a win was everything the Irish needed to do to get their season back on pace. Yet as only Irish fans can do, a very vocal contingent has turned more negative about the season than they were after dropping the first two games of the year.

After two weeks of offensive regression, Tommy Rees and the Irish offense have a chance to go put together a solid performance. They’ll need to do it in front of 60,000 fans and a primetime ESPN audience. Entering the second act of the season, here are six fun facts, tidbits, leftover and miscellaneous musings as the Irish prepare to take on Purdue at 8:00 p.m. ET.

1. Offenses beware: Running against the Irish is no easy feat.

In retrospect, the Irish’s performance against Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham already looks much better than it did last Saturday. The Irish defense held Graham to 89 yards on 21 carries, letting Graham loose for a 42-yard scamper, his longest play from scrimmage on the year. Even with that run, Notre Dame held Graham to his lowest output on the season, just days before he was unleashed against South Florida on Thursday night, running for 226 yards on 26 carries.

After four games, the Irish shutting down impressive running games is starting to become a trend.

Thanks to the Irish Sports Information Department, here are the Irish four previous opponents, how they’ve run the ball against the Irish, and how they’ve done against everybody else:

USF                                              Vs. Notre Dame                                    Vs. Everybody Else
Rushing Yards/Game               126.0                                                       262.7
Average Per Rush                      3.0                                                           6.1

Michigan                                     Vs. Notre Dame                                    Vs. Everybody Else
Rushing Yards/Game               114.0                                                       348.0
Average Per Rush                      4.4                                                           7.3

Michigan State                           Vs. Notre Dame                                    Vs. Everybody Else
Rushing Yards/Game               29.0                                                        181.3
Average Per Rush                      1.3                                                           4.1

Pittsburgh                                    Vs. Notre Dame                                    Vs. Everybody Else
Rushing Yards/Game               103.0                                                       192.6
Average Per Rush                      2.7                                                           4.4

Purdue head coach Danny Hope understands the Irish will be the best challenge his upstart running game will face.

“They’re good against the run. They can shut your run game down,” Hope said of the Irish defense. “Most of their opponents this season have struggled to manufacture any sort of run game. When that happens, you become somewhat one-dimensional and that plays into their hands.”

We’ll see how Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers do against a stingy Irish defense. It’ll likely tell the story of the Boilermakers offense.

2. Brian Kelly has made it clear just how important this game is… to Purdue.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly isn’t a guy that puts his foot in his mouth too often. But there’s one thing he’s done consistently this week that’s been a bit of a head scratcher: He’s continued to call this weekend’s game Purdue’s Super Bowl.

“This is their Super Bowl. This is the biggest game on their schedule by far,” Kelly said earlier in the week, and continues to echo this line of thought. “There’s no question about it. We’re going to get everybody’s best shot.”

It’s true that the Notre Dame is usually one of Purdue’s most important games on the season, but something about an opponent’s coach naming  your team’s Super Bowl strikes me as a little strange. But backing up the truck, maybe it’s a case of Kelly playing some motivational games with his own team.

If there’s a common theme Kelly is hitting on with his team, it’s that Purdue is a team that’s going to be on a mission. They’re hosting a large recruiting weekend, turning Saturday into a Gold & Black game, and are on the verge of pulling off a sell out crowd. Combine all of that, and there’s little doubt that Danny Hope’s squad comes ready to play.

(That said, if Kelly’s just taking a dig at Jim Delany‘s B1G conference and its merry band of cupcakes on the schedule, I’d probably get a chuckle out of that, too.)

Realistically, we’ve got no clue what kind of team we’ll be seeing on Saturday night. They snuck by one directional state school and thumped another one, and sandwiched those games between losing to one of the worst teams in D-I football. Then again Pitt gave up seven sacks to Maine and only beat the Black Bears by six before absolutely killing USF Thursday night.

The message? Frankly, I have no idea.

3. Purdue is confident sophomore Ricardo Allen might have some answers for Michael Floyd.

If Purdue was looking for the blueprint to slow down Michael Floyd, they may have gotten a peak last weekend against Pitt. But Purdue also has a weapon of its own, sophomore cornerback Ricardo Allen, who walked onto campus last year for Hope and became one of the team’s best defenders. Good news for Boilermaker fans? He’s still getting better and better.

“I think Ricardo has really progressed from this point in time last year,” Hope said. “It’s hard to tell because a lot of people are not throwing his way and running the ball. Maybe just the stats and his numbers don’t jump out at you quite like they did this time last year. I think he’s really improved from where he was at this time last year as far as we can tell because he has not been tested. Saturday, he’ll be matched up on one of them.”

That “one of them” is Michael Floyd. How the Boilermakers decide to help Floyd should determine how big of a difference Tyler Eifert, Theo Riddick or TJ Jones make.

“Obviously, if they have two or three guys looking at you all the time, there’s obviously got to be someone open,” Floyd said Wednesday. “We’re trying to get the guy open. I’m trying to do as much as I can to make sure to put [Tommy Rees] in the most comfortable spot as possible.”

Allen will likely stay on the field side of the formation while fellow cornerback Josh Johnson covers the short side. Whether or not the corners switch sides to keep an eye on Floyd, it’s clear Purdue’s secondary knows the Irish receivers present a challenge.

“We feel comfortable with those two guys and we don’t have to run around and match up,” Purdue DB coach Lou Anarumo said. “They have three good receivers. Michael Floyd is a great player but the other three — two wide receivers and the tight end — they’re very good players.

“We’re going to be conscious of where (Floyd) is every snap but we’ll be aware of the other guys that can beat you too.”

If I had to guess, expect to see the Irish try and jump start Riddick with some easy completions.

4. Credit Kelly and company for some nice work with halftime adjustments.

If you were surprised by Pitt scoring on their first possession of the third quarter, it’s because it just hasn’t happened all that much for the Irish. Tim Prister of IrishIllustrated.com crunched the numbers, just to show how impressive the Irish have been after making their halftime adjustments.

Notre Dame has pitched a shutout in six of the last nine third quarters, surrendering a mere 23 points.

Only Pittsburgh last week has put together a sustained scoring drive in the third quarter against the Irish in their last nine games, and that required a roughing the punter penalty to keep the drive alive.

“That’s what we’re trying to build here,” said Brian Kelly Wednesday when asked about Notre Dame’s recent third-quarter prowess. “We knew that our success was going to be linked toward building a defensive philosophy and a mentality and a way we play.”

Notre Dame’s third-quarter numbers are even more impressive when you consider that Tulsa’s seven third-quarter points last season came on a 59-yard punt return while USC’s 10 third-quarter points came on a field goal that capped a seven-play, 25-yard drive and a four-play, two-yard “touchdown drive’ following a Tommy Rees fumble.

Over the last nine games, Notre Dame has out-scored its opponents in the third quarter, 59-23. Over the last eight games, Notre Dame has a 51-16 advantage.

In five of those nine third quarters, the Irish have surrendered 59 yards or less. Only Michigan has gained more than 100 yards in the third quarter (137), thanks in large part to a 77-yard pass completion (that eventually led to a fourth-quarter score).

Even Pittsburgh didn’t crack the 100-yard mark in the third quarter against the Irish last week, despite a 19-play, 80-yard drive. The Panthers’ other drive in the third quarter netted a minus-eight yards.

There will still be complaints about the Irish’s defensive coaching until Gary Gray starts winning some one-on-one deep balls and Bob Diaco‘s troops slow down Air Force and Navy, two games that should be absolutely intriguing from a Xs and Os point of view.

One thing is certain though, Diaco’s continual preaching of the fundamentals has helped turn this defensive unit into a BCS caliber group.

5. The trip to West Lafayette is a return home for new Irish trainer Rob Hunt.

If you’re looking for one of the most under-reported stories of the offseason, it was Brian Kelly bringing in Oklahoma State trainer Rob Hunt, completing a major overhaul of the medical and training staffs that oversee the football program. Hunt’s work with the Irish has already helped the team, with the Irish staying relatively healthy through four physical games on the schedule.

Hunt’s career has seen him zig-zag from Ball State to Missouri to Southeast Missouri to Oklahoma State. But the chance to return to his home state of Indiana was just too good to pass up.

Sam King in the Lafayette Journal & Courier has more about the West Lafayette native:

A return to Indiana was welcome for Hunt and his wife, Krista, also a 1993 West Lafayette graduate.

After never being closer than six hours from West Lafayette, moving to South Bend has offered plenty of family time in the last six months.

It also gave Hunt the opportunity to work with one of the most storied college football programs.

“Certainly all of us have dreams to be at the pinnacle, at the best of your profession,” Hunt said. “I prided myself on doing a good job no matter where I’ve been. I didn’t know where it would take me.

“The tradition here is unlike any other. It’s difficult to describe. It’s been a great six months for me to this point. We’re looking forward to many years here supporting this football program and coaching staff.”

Kelly, Notre Dame’s second-year head coach, is equally as happy to have Hunt.

Upon hiring Hunt, Kelly was quoted in the Chicago Tribune as saying, “We think we got the best in the country.”

Last season, it seemed like just about every non-lineman on the team was battling hamstring problems at one point or another, with the Irish losing a ton of critical minutes with correctable injuries like muscle pulls. Right now, only Danny Spond has missed any time from a hamstring injury, with the only other major injury being fifth-year tight end Mike Ragone’s torn ACL.

Hunt comes from a large family of Purdue graduates and fans, making the weekend back home even more special.

“We’ve watched a bunch of Purdue games in that stadium,” Hunt to the J&C. “It’s going to be a little different standing on that sideline as a member of the opposing team.”

6. It’s time for Tommy Rees to start building some confidence… as three quarterbacks are waiting.

If the Irish are going to get to the places they want to this season, they’ll need Tommy Rees to start developing some confidence. While Kelly has done his best to shield his young quarterback, the sophomore knows he’s got to play better.

“I think the whole being a sophomore thing isn’t really that relevant anymore,” Rees said. “I need to improve how I’m playing and keep getting better. It can’t be a matter of age or experience. I think I can be the quarterback for this football team and I think I need to be learning by my mistakes and playing up to my capabilities.”

There has been enough debate this week about Irish quarterbacks to last an entire offseason. But if Rees is going to continue to pilot this offense, he’ll need to take big strides against Purdue and Air Force, two defenses that shouldn’t stack up all that well against the Irish’s explosive and balanced attack.

Kelly has made it clear that he’s still supporting Rees as his starting quarterback, but you’ve got to think the head coach would also love winning one of the next two games comfortably so he’s able to give Dayne Crist another chance to play, only this time in a low-leverage situation.

Kelly talked about keeping all four of his quarterbacks ready to go, even when it’s been Rees that’s taken every snap since halftime against South Florida.

“First of all the quarterback situation is such that the No. 2 knows he has to be ready,” Kelly said after Thursday’s practice. “So he’s doing his work because he knows he’s one snap away from being in there, so you never worry about two in that sense.

“I try to spend more attention and time with three and four. That’s why we’ve had them both stay with us and be part of meetings and game planning as well as go over there and get some work. I’ve tried to spend a lot of time with the threes and fours in keeping them engaged and learning our offense. I meet with them individually as well to just make sure that they’ve got a good base.”

That Kelly himself spends time with the third and fourth sting quarterback is just an amazing contrast from what Charlie Weis used to do with his quarterbacks. But it also helps explain why he’s kept so much harmony in a really difficult quarterbacking situation, where a roster imbalance meant bringing in multiple kids bunched together, something that makes depth chart continuity tough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


  1. bernhtp - Sep 30, 2011 at 10:00 AM

    This is the best six pack I can remember. Good work, Keith!

  2. nudeman - Sep 30, 2011 at 10:32 AM

    I am tempted to write “I have a bad feeling about this game.
    But I think I’ll always have a bad feeling until we have a QB who isn’t a turnover specialist.

    Please. Too much to ask the we have zero turnovers this week?

  3. NotreDan - Sep 30, 2011 at 11:17 AM

    Nice Column Keith.

    Anyone see Pitt dismantle USF last night? Makes me believe 3 things:

    1) Michigan is a pretty good ball team that I see ranked in the top 10 in November unless they choke against MSU on October 15.
    2) We beat USF 20-7 in the second half; the fumble and the weather were confidence and momentum killers. We were clearly the better team, sans turnovers.
    3) Rees is the right guy.

    • nudeman - Sep 30, 2011 at 11:25 AM

      notredan,
      I thought the pounding you took here the other deay would have had you tossing out your keyboard.
      Damn.

      Hey, what’s Rees’ record as a starter?

      • NotreDan - Sep 30, 2011 at 11:53 AM

        what pounding?

        You know, I LOVED KA’s +/- stat, as it really lays out the difference between Rees and Crist, so I did the same analysis for my/your posts on that day (Sep 27) that were addressing each other.

        NotreDan +72 (107 thumbs up, 35 thumbs down)
        nudieman -11 (42 thumbs up, 53 thumbs down)

        I even gave you credit for the +3/-1 post at the bottom of page 1 that your re-posted at the top of page 2 for a +12/-28 tally.

        Damn.
        :)

      • nudeman - Sep 30, 2011 at 12:04 PM

        notredan,

        If it was anyone else I’d say you just pulled those numbers out of your a**.
        But you know what? I believe you DID sit there and tabulate the ups/downs. I really do. That is so YOU.

        Anyway, moratorium here on my part on constructively critical ND comments. Entering game mode now. Only 32 hours or so to go.

    • bernhtp - Sep 30, 2011 at 11:38 AM

      NotreDan:

      1. Michigan will remain a really good team, like last year, until the pounding of the Big 10 physical play takes its toll on Denard. After that, Michigan starts to suck again.

      2. My guess is that the USF weather delay helped ND more than it hurt. It allowed time to regroup and I doubt the QB change – right or wrong – would have occurred without the extra time.

      3. I hope so. However, if there isn’t improvement soon, especially if it costs us game(s), Kelly will need to make another change. The position is too critical for it to maintain the current level of inconsistency and underperformance.

      • NotreDan - Sep 30, 2011 at 12:00 PM

        bernhtp:

        1. Can’t say I totally disagree. I’ll be in Ann Arbor tomorrow (unfortunately, my wife is a huge UM fan, so you can imagine the pain in my house, lol), I just think the Big 10 isn’t what it once was. Nebraska is a question mark too that will get some answers after tomorrow with Wisconsin. If Wisconsin were in place of Northwestern for UM for example, I would agree more strongly with your first point.

        2. Never seen anything like that game, so not sure. I just know that huge delays a numbing, but they would have been for USF too. As I posted on that game analysis, I think ND sat around for 2 hours in self loathing, and USF sat around for 2 hours basking in self confidence.

        3. I’m on a limb, but I believe we see a cleaned up act for Rees this Saturday.

    • nudeman - Sep 30, 2011 at 11:38 AM

      notredan,

      You had me until #3.
      No he isn’t.

      If he’s the best this program has, then they ND is in serious trouble. But we’ve sort of strangled this issue here.

      • NotreDan - Sep 30, 2011 at 11:55 AM

        you sure your last name isn’t Crist?

      • nudeman - Sep 30, 2011 at 12:28 PM

        notredan,
        yes, just checked my mortgage payment book to make sure. last name isn’t Crist OR Rees, for that matter.
        Go Irish

        BTW, you’re racking up the thumbs downs today. Might be a good time to submerge your keyboard and Blackberry in iodine.

        Just sayin’ …

  4. jerseyshorendfan1 - Sep 30, 2011 at 12:55 PM

    Lets’s have an Irish win this weekend please,
    Under center will still be Tom Rees.
    If he can find Michael Floyd,
    Then a loss we’ll avoid
    And bring the Boilermakers down to their knees.

    GO IRISH!!!!!

    • nudeman - Sep 30, 2011 at 12:57 PM

      Since we’re doing poetry:

      I once knew a man from Nantucket
      Whose …

      Wait, maybe inappropriate.
      Sorry

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - Sep 30, 2011 at 1:19 PM

        This one’s for you nudeman (all in good fun of course):

        There once was a blogger named nude,
        Who could sometimes be kinda rude.
        He could beat a dead horse
        All day long without remorse,
        To the point I’d regurgitate food.

      • nudeman - Sep 30, 2011 at 2:48 PM

        There once was a man from J Shore
        Who dabbled in Notre Dame lore
        Sometimes he wrote like a rookie
        Cause his thoughts were about Snooki
        But he actually loved the Situation much more

    • NotreDan - Sep 30, 2011 at 1:04 PM

      LOVE this!!

      • don74 - Sep 30, 2011 at 2:09 PM

        Art,

        Best post of the ’11 season. Maybe we’ve turned the corner !

      • nudeman - Sep 30, 2011 at 2:51 PM

        There once was a nutbag damed NotreDan
        Who really thought he was the fu**ing MAN
        He was always in a bad mood
        Cause he’d get outsmarted by Nude
        Then he’d sit and cry in the can

      • NotreDan - Sep 30, 2011 at 3:06 PM

        I definitely return to the bar and my beer before I start crying

  5. Jennifer - Sep 30, 2011 at 1:25 PM

    Can’t believe I’ve got to attend a wedding reception Saturday night. Not to worry, as I’ll have my “Inside the Irish” phone app and plan on slipping away whenever I can to catch up on the action. (Oughta be a law banning all weddings & receptions planned during on ND Football game or reception.)

  6. Keith Arnold - Sep 30, 2011 at 2:16 PM

    Gentlemen,

    Nice work on these comments. Loving this Nudeman / NotreDan partnership. Lot of hope here.

    I still think Michigan is going to lose four games. They just aren’t that good.

    BK joked about it yesterday. Turnovers: Vs. USF – 5, Vs. Mich – 4, Vs. MSU – 3, Vs. Pitt – 2.

    If the Irish turn it over only once, it should be a nice victory.

    • nudeman - Sep 30, 2011 at 2:58 PM

      If they turn it over once or less, they win. Period

      2 or more: All bets off

    • NotreDan - Sep 30, 2011 at 3:08 PM

      KA:

      Love being here, love your work.

      One of these games, we are going to put together 4 quarters of BCS champ quality football. Frankly… I kind of hope we save it for Stanford, when we will NEED it.

    • miked8577 - Oct 1, 2011 at 3:15 AM

      didn’t ND have 5 against UM?

  7. smurphdoggy29 - Sep 30, 2011 at 6:25 PM

    Big PU spectacle = Blow Out win for Notre Dame couldn’t script it any better
    let’s hope Rees gets it together, or one of the QB’s anyway, so that we can
    start to see the offense hum while #5 and #19 are eating people’s heads.

    GO Irish ! PU Beat the Body Odor !

  8. massivedick - Oct 1, 2011 at 9:35 AM

    I sure hope we beat Purdue
    Really really do
    It would be bad to get beat by such a weak team
    Should not be any trouble though
    How could we not win?

    Saturdays have been pretty sad days for years
    Unless we lose our way to the stadium
    Can’t help but win this one
    Keep up the good work

  9. NDfan1224 - Oct 10, 2011 at 3:19 PM

    GO IRISH! VOTE FOR ME!
    http://www.showyourobsessionnotredame.com/SitePages/home.aspx

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